It is delicious to think that the Guardian’s weekly food magazine, Feast, now comes, along with the other Saturday supplements, in a compostable bag made partly from potatoes. Selection, preparation, presentation and consumption of food is universal. Readers care about the topic and have a lot of knowledge to contribute. Constructive contact is regular among readers, my office and the editorial team involved in this heartily appreciated section of the Guardian (and Observer).
Inevitably, my office may be involved when things go wrong, but overwhelmingly things go right. I may use corrections here to illustrate points, but I write in praise of what is a skilful and sophisticated journalistic operation. Thought goes into what ingredients are seasonal and sustainable. Footnotes give specific fish sustainability policy for each of the UK, US and Australia. Expertise and practicality are prized and shared.
Your scrutiny can lead to corrections such as this: “A reader noted our recipe headed ‘Spaghetti with radicchio, fennel and rosemary’ didn’t include spaghetti, fennel or rosemary. The ingredients and method were right, but it should have been titled: Strozzapreti with radicchio and balsamic.” An old headline had been overlooked. In other cases, a missed typo has impact. In recipes quantities matter. The dinner is in the detail. The tagine that called for 13kg of lamb would have fed a lot of insomniacs (read 1.3kg). And: “The recipe for chocolate soufflé with Mars bar … specified ‘85 tbsp granulated sugar’. It should have called for 85g. Apologies to anyone already seriously oversweetened.”
Considerable effort goes into testing the recipes. Measures differ around the world so conversion may be necessary. The food editors tell me that chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s team develops and tests recipes in metric, then “they send those recipes to their US publishers, who make them in metric and convert them to imperial to test, and compare the results for consistency”.
For three main reasons, the time and care taken over accuracy of recipes are important. First, on Saturdays the Guardian costs £3.20, a premium over the weekday cover price of £2.20. Some readers collect Feast for the store of recipes they accumulate. Value for money is a reasonable expectation. Second, people invest in ingredients to try new recipes, and a not-so-obvious error may result in their loss. One disappointed reader sent a photo of a blackened cheesecake base when complaining about an instruction for baking temperature/duration.
“We changed how we do oven temperatures last year,” the editors advise. “We print gas mark and celsius and now add fan oven settings. We work to 20 degrees lower for fan than conventional oven, although Yotam’s team find 10C lower is right for baking. We put fahrenheit in the web version for US readers.”
Lastly, people eat the results, so an error could be more consequential than, say, a flaw in a crossword clue. A recent incident did no harm, but contained a lesson. Those responsible for those pang-inducing photos of prepared dishes felt that the edible flowers a cook had added to a cake were visually underwhelming. Different, more vibrant flowers were added. The image was luscious, but the flowers were poisonous. We informed readers, just in case anyone was contemplating an exact recreation.
• This article was amended on 9 September 2019 to clarify that the flowers photo decision had been a collective, not an individual, decision.
• Paul Chadwick is the Guardian’s readers’ editor